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Recession and its after-effects: the state and local outlook for 1991.

Montana's economy has it own cycles and trends, but at some level it mirrors the national economic picture. It's the national trends we'll look at first in order to understand what they mean for Montana's economy in 1991. We'll also examine the ways in which Montana's economy diverges from the overall United States' economy, with an eye toward the long-term Montana outlook.

First of all, we need to determine whether or not the U.S. economy is really in a recession. Unfortunately, the definitive

Table 1

Recession Score Card

Selected Recession Characteristics
 Change in
 Change in Industrial
 Duration Real GNP Production
Peak Trough (Months) (Percent) (Percent)
Nov 48 Oct 49 11 -1.5 -10.1
July 53 May 54 10 -3.2 -9.4
Aug 57 April 58 8 -3.0 13.5
April 60 Feb 61 10 -0.9 -8.6
Dec 69 Nov 70 11 -0.8 -7.0
Nov 73 March 75 16 -4.5 -14.8
Jan 80 July 80 6 -2.4 -5.8
July 81 No 82 16 -3.5 -9.0
(*) Sept (*) Feb 91 (*) 5 (*) -.6 (*) -1.4
 (*) Projected
 Source: Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates.

answer won't be available for some time. Data which reveal the precise turning point in a business cycle are not available until well after the event.

This Is a Slowdown

Preliminary indicators, however, all show a marked slowdown in the economy:

* Employment growth has stopped;

* Unemployment is up;

* After adjusting for inflation, personal income has stopped growing;

* Consumer expectations have plummeted;

* Orders for durable goods have decreased; and

* The Index of Leading Economic Indicators continues its decline.

Taken together, these measures certainly suggest recession in the national economy.

How bad will it get? Currently, consensus holds that we're in a for a short, mild recession. For instances, Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates (WEFA Group), the economic forecasting service to which the state of Montana subscribes, predicts that the recession will last from the fourth quarter of 1990 through the first quarter of 1991. The WEFA Group also predicts that compared to previous recessions, declines in real Gross National Product (GNP) and industrial production will be relatively mild.

Will the recession be mild or severe?

Basis of a Short Recession

The WEFA Group bases its forecast of a short, mild recession on several factors.

1 WEFA assumes the price of oil will peak in the first quarter of 1991, then sharply decline. Current increases in the price of oil are proportionately less than those of 1972 and 1979. also, the ratio of energy consumption to GNP is now lower than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, so any increase in price will have proportionately less impact.

2 The U.S. inflation rate is not particularly high, so the Federal Reserve system will have less incentive to put on the monetary brakes and increase interest rates.

3 Firms may not have to significantly decrease their orders to keep inventories in line with declining sales.

4 Exports will continue to grow because most world economies, continue to grow. Germany and Japan, in particular, are not experiencing slowdowns. A continued weak dollar will help promote export growth.

5 Finally, some short-term increases in defense spending have been associated with the Operation Desert Storm. These increases counterbalance declines in other categories.

Worst Case Scenario

Experts aren't unanimous, however. Other factors put the national economy at risk for a severe recession.

1 Problems with U.S. financial sector (i.e., the Savings and Loan crisis) could lead to loss of confidence in financial institutions.

2 Tax increases went into effect on January 1, 1991. Fiscal policy became more restrictive in the midst of a recession.

3 Over the last decade federal government cut-backs reduced the quality of economic data. Our information may be sending us the wrong signals.

4 Debt from consumer, business, and government borrowing has never been higher. This situation could fuel skyrocketing interest rates if foreigners -- who finance a good share of our borrowing -- decided to stop buying our debt. Some evidence suggests that Japanese banks are becoming more hesitant to make loans to U.S. borrowers.

5 At this writing, the war with Iraq remains a significant wildcard. It now appears that the war will be over quickly. In this case, GNP growth will be only slightly less than if there had been no war. If the war drags on, there will be continued high oil prices, depressed consumer sentiment, and a weaker, more lethargic recover.

Montana and the Recessionary Cycle

How do these factors effect Montana's economy? In a word, immediately. Cycle turning points -- the peaks and troughs associated with business cycles -- occur in Montana at almost the same time as they occur nationwide.

For one thing, the wood products industry -- one of the state's three largest basic industries -- is highly sensitive to the national business cycle. It quickly lays off workers and reduces production when interest rates rise or construction slows. Conversely, during a recovery phase the industry quickly rehires workers and increases production. (See page 24-25 for a more detailed analysis of Montana's wood products industry.)

Consumer sentiment here in Montana also coincides with cyclic patterns of consumer sentiment nationwide. Montana consumer attitudes turned downward at the same time as the nationwide index. (More on this later.)

Comparable Recessions?

Some think business cycles are worse in Montana than nationwide. But this premise is hard to prove because we don't have comparable data for both. However, we do have figures for nonfarm labor income, the closest state-level approximation of GNP. Table 2 summarizes and compares six postwar recessions. We'll deal separately with the early 1980s recessions when Montana suffered more than rest of the nation.

But look at the data for the other recessions. It's easy to see the downturns were less severe in Montana. In fact, in three of

Table 2

Percent Change in Nonfarm Labor Income, Peak to Trough
Recession Montana U.S.
1948, qtr. 4, tto 1949, qtr. 2 +4.7 % -1.4 %
1953, qtr. 2 to 1954, qtr. 2 -1.7 -3.1
1957, qtr. 3 to 1958, qtr. 1 -2.8 -3.3
1960, qtr. 1 to 1961, qtr. 1 -4.1 -0.7
1969, qtr. 3 to 1970, qtr. 4 +3.4 -0.3
1973, qtr. 4 to 1975, qtr. 1 -0.1 -4.8
 Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce.

the six cases, nonfarm labor income continued to grow despite the declines nationwide. For three other postwar recessions, declines in Montana were well below the nationwide averages.

Over the long term, Montana's economy suffers its share of volatility. The extreme ups and down sof agriculture, for instance, are cause by variables like weather, insects, and prices -- not the national business cycle.

Short-term forecasts for Montana and the United States are shown in figure 1, with percentage changes projected for nonfarm labor income. Remember this is annual data, while the recession is forecast to be concentrated in the last quarter of 1990 and the first quarter of 1991. Notice both United States and Montana annual growth rates are projected to decline in 1990 and 1991. Recovery should be in full swing by 1992.

The recession should be milder in Montana than nationwide. National nonfarm labor income is projected to decline slightly in 1991 while the figure inches up in Montana. In 1992, Montana's growth rate rebounds to 2.2 percent, while the corresponding figure nationwide is expected to be 3.8 percent. In other words, by 1992 we are back to the traditional economic relationship where growth in Montana is less than the national average.

Recessions are short-run phenomena; impacts of the present one should be played out by 1992. Long-term trends, however, reflect the structure of Montana's economy, and are determined by a very different set of factors.

Four Long-Term Indicators

Four indicators are used to gauge long-term trends in Montana's economy. They are:

* Population;

* Per capita income;

* Personal income;

* Nonfarm labor income.

Each of indicator measure a different part of the economy. In the short run, one indicator may not coincide with trends in the other indicators. Taken togethr though, the four provide a good view of Montana's general economic condition.


The recent U.S. Census of Population reported about 799,000 Montana residents in 1990, up from approximately 787,000 in 1980. As figure 2 clearly shows, Montana's population increased rapidly during the 1970s and continued to grow in the early 1980s. The state's population peaked in 1985 at 825,000. From 1986 to 1988 the state saw sizable declines, but in the last two years of the decade Montana's population stabilized.

Per Capita Income

Per capita income is equal to total personal income divided by population. Per capita income is a measure of economic well-being; it shows how well off the average person is. To eliminate the effects of inflation, per capita income has been converted to constant 1989 dollars.

Figure 3 shows per capita income figures for Montana and the United States from 1970 to 1990 (the 1990 figure is a preliminary estimate). Notice Montana's per capita income remained relatively stable during the early 1980s. About 1986 it inched upward as population dropped; fewer people divvied up the income pie.

Per capita income in the United State's continued upward throughout the last decade, while Montana's figure was stable and/or growing slowly. In 1980, the state's per capita income was 90 percent of the national average. By 1988, it hit a low of 78 percent. The years 1989 and 1990 saw some slight recovery as Montana's per capita income rose to about 80 percent of the U.S. figure.

Thus, in the 1980s Montanans were less able to increase purchases of public and private goods and services -- candy bars, cars, health care, or environmental cleanups -- than were typical Americans in other states.

Nonfarm Labor Income and Personal Income

Nonfarm labor income is the wages and salaries, proprietors' income, and other labor income of all employed persons except those working on farms and ranches. Nonfarm labor income is used instead of GNP, which is available only for national economies. Changes in nonfarm labor income provide a measure of the changes in overall economic activity in a state or smaller area.

Figure 4 presents nonfarm labor income data from the first quarter of 1978 to the second quarter of 1990. Notice sharp declines from 1979 to 1982, corresponding to national recessions. As we mentioned earlier, these were the only recessions since World War II more severe in Montana than nationwide. Overall, nonfarm labor income decreased by more than 12 percent from 1979 to 1982 as Montana suffered from plant closures as well as the recession.

1983 and 1984 brought Montana a modest recovery. Nonfarm labor income increased about 8 percent from mid-1982 to early 1984. For the U.S. economy, this marked the beginning of sustained economic growth, a period which continued until the current recession.

Montana's economy turned downward again in late 1984 and 1985. Notice these declines were not as large as those earlier in the decade, and did not correspond to a recession in the U.S. economy. After hitting bottom about 1986, Montana's nonfarm labor income edged upward in 1987, 1988, 1989, and the first half of 1990. Increases averaged only about 1 percent per year, a "fragile recovery."

Personal income includes income from all sources, and is closely related to consumer purchasing power. Because of the lack of reliable statistics for Montana's retail sales, personal income is one of the few measures of the state's consumer activity.

As figure 4 shows, Montana's personal income remained relatively constant during the 1980s. Increases in transfer payments (primarily Social Security payments) and dividends, interest, and rents make up most of the growing gap between nonfarm labor income and personal income.

Back to Basics

Montana's economic growth is largely determined by activity in the basic industries. Basic industries are those which depend on markets outside the state or which are otherwise influenced by factors outside the state's borders. For Montana, the basic industries are primarily natural resource industries -- agriculture, mining, and wood and paper products. Other Montana basic industries include nonresident travel (tourism), the federal government, railroads, and certain types of manufacturing. Basic industry workers' labor income represents new funds injected into Montana's economy. New funds create additional income as they are spent and respent in the state.

Derivative industries, by contrast, primarily serve the local population. Examples of derivative industries include retail trade, services, and local government.

Basic industries are best analyzed in terms of labor income rather than employment, output, or production because the amount of basic industry income earned and spent in a local area is what affects the economy, not necessarily the number of basic workers, the board feet of timber, or the ounces of gold produced. Moreover, it makes little difference whether $30,000 of basic labor income represents the salary of one worker, or the incomes of two workers each earning $15,000 because aggregate new dollars are what count here.

Changes in basic industries may have driven recent trends in Montana's economy. But these changes don't provide a complete explanation for every blip and squiggle in the state's growth rate, nor are they the only causes of trends in the derivative industries. National factors rather than local changes may affect the derivative industries. For instance, Montana's health care industry appears to be growing independently of the basic industry trends in local economies.

One more caution: Our analyses are based on the best available data, but are not necessarily accurate to the last cent. Data we use may reflect different reporting periods; personal income and nonfarm labor income are reported quarterly, for instance, while labor income data for the basic industries is reported annually. Also, complete information was not available for some basic industries, so we were forced to make a few "ballpark" estimates. Figure 5 shows Montana's basic industry labor income over the period 1978 to 1989. To eliminate the effects of inflation, the data has been converted to constant 1989 dollars. We've presented total basic labor income as well as figures for each industry for the year 1989.

To get some idea of agricultural labor income's extreme volatility and its potential distorting effect on total basic labor income, see figure 5. Clearly visible are the effects of back-to-back droughts in 1984 and the effect of 1988's milder drought.

Looking at totals for nonfarm basic industries, we see ups and downs which mirror trends in total nonfarm labor income. For both measures, the period from 1979 to 1982 brought sharp declines; 1983 and 1984 saw increases; renewed declines occurred in 1985 and 1986; and finally 1987, 1988, and 1989 brought modest growth.

One of the few bright spots among Montana's basic industries is metal mining. It helped fuel the state's most recent period of modest growth (1987 to 1989). Both employment and the value of metal mining production increased significantly over the past few years. Modest rises in other manufacturing, military, and nonresident travel also contributed to the recent recovery. This growth counterbalanced declines in railroads and oil and gas.

The period of 1979 to 1982 saw widespread declines among Montana's basic industries. Permanent shutdowns -- such as the Milwaukee Railroad and the smelters in Anaconda and Great Falls (which were classified in Other manufacturing) devastated some sectors of the economy. Cyclic declines hit wood products and other basic industries. A peak year for oil and gas exploration (1981) moderated overall decreases somewhat.

A number of basic industries, especially wood and paper products, turned upward in the short recovery of 1983 and 1984. But their gains were moderated by declines in oil and gas and railroads.

The state's economy turned down again in 1985, due to a continued freefall in oil and gas activity combined with moderate decreases in wood and paper products, other manufacturing, and railroads. Labor income in other basic industries remained relatively stable.

Over the 1980s, Montana's economy was dominated by declines in basic industry labor income. But losses in labor income for an industry do not necessarily mean that industry is reducing output or production. In fact many of Montana's basic industries were in the midst of structural and technological change during the 1980s, or were reacting to different market or regulatory conditions.

New capital investments and other innovations increased the productivity of workers (and hence, reduced their aggregate labor income). Until recently, for example, the wood products industry was regularly posting all-time highs of output and production with ever declining employment and labor income.

Regional Differences

As shown in the map, Montana has been dividided into three multicounty regions, roughly corresponding to the Billings, Great Falls, and Missoula trade areas. Analyzing data for each region allows us to gauge general trends in broad areas of the state, and is a starting point for identifying how recessions affect different parts of the state.

The population data if figure 6 show regional divergence from statewide trends examined earlier. In the 1970s, the Southeast and the West grew at very similar rates, while the Northeast remained relatively stable. In the 1980s, the West region's population remained relatively stable from 1979 to 1982, grew slowly in 1983 and 1984, and then stabilized again until 1990. The Northeast's population increased slowly in 1981 and 1982, stabilized in 1983-1984, and has declined since 1985 -- although the downward trend moderate toward the end of the decade.

During the 1980s, the Southeast region mirrored the state's population trends. Comparing figures 6 and 7, we see that the statewide population increases, the peak in 1985, and the subsequent declines are all mirrored in the data for the Southeast.

Regional differences in sensitivity to national recession are clearly charted by nonfarm labor income. As shown in figure 7, both the West and the Northeast experienced significant declines from 1980 to 1982, while the Southeast remained relatively stable. The West's decreases were caused primarily by the cyclicially sensitive wood products industry, which is concentrated in that part of the state. Some of the Northeast's 1980-82 declines can be attributed to the recession, but other events, such as the closure of the smelter in Great Falls, had a greater impact. Cyclic impacts were minimal in the Southeast; nonfarm labor income remained stable or even grew slightly during the recession years of 1980, 1981, and 1982.

The Southeast did experience a slow downward trend in nonfarm labor income from 1984 to 1987, primarily due to decreases in the oil and gas industry, which is concentrated there. Some oil and gas activity also occurs in the Northeast, which may explain that region's more modest declines.

Montana's Major Urban Areas

Because of our emphasis on the current recession, we do not have space to discuss in detail each of Montana's urban areas. We will, however, present the data for the general economic indicators and the basic industries. We will also provide a few brief comments concerning important trends in each urban area with emphasis on how they have been affected by earlier recessions.

For each of Montana's major urban areas we will present data for general economic indicators and the basic industries. We will also provide a brief summary of the important trends in each urban area.


Based on the data presented in table 3, the population trends in Montana's seven major urban areas may be placed into three catagories:

1) Declines. The population of the Butte-Anaconda area (Butte-Silver Bow and Anaconda-Deer Lodge counties) decreased from 50,600 in 1980 to 43,200 in 1988.

2) Stability. The populations of Missoula and Cascade counties were relatively unchanged. Missoula County grew by about 2,300 persons between 1980 and 1988, while Cascade County declined by about 2,500 persons during the same period.

3) Decelerating growth. Flathead, Yellowstone, Gallatin, and Lewis and Clark countries all experienced population growth in


the 1980s. In each city, however, the rates of increase have moderated. Each county has experienced population declines during at least one of the past few years.

Other General Indicators

Quarterly data for personal income and nonfarm labor income are presented for each community, along with annual figures for labor income in each of the basic industries. In addition to the traditional basic industries--such as mining and wood products -- we have also presented estimates of the labor income associated with trace center activities. These figures represent the labor income attributalbe to persons from the surrounding rural areas who come to the cities to shop, see a doctor or dentist, obtain financial services or advice, or conduct other business. The figures also incorporate wholesale and other businesses that serve adjacent areas. Trade center labor income figures should be interpreted cautiously because they are "ballpark" estimates derived using indirect methods.

No labor income for trade center activities is shown for Flathead County and the Butte-Anaconda area. Although certain firms in these communities serve nonresidents, locals shop elsewhere often enough to counterbalance the influx of nonresidents.

The relationship between basic industries and other economic indicators is not always precise and easy to see. The relationship may be especially ambiguous for sub-units of the state's economy, because data for smaller areas may be subject to greater error. In addition, annual data for the basic industries terminated with 1987, while quarterly figures for personal income and nonfarm labor income extend to mid-1990.

Lewis and Clark County

As in the past, the current recession probably will not have significant impacts on Helena's economy. For the last national downturn (1981-1982), Lewis and Clark County personal income and nonfarm labor income data do not display cyclic ups and downs.

The county's stability isn't hard to figure. The two largest components of its economic base are state and federal government, both of which are traditionally noncyclic.

However, labor income in the basic industries reveals some important trends in the Helena economy which are concelaed by its overall stability. State government's downward trend during the late 1980s was due largely to a pay freeze for state workers. Growth in trade center activities was fueled by Helena's emergence as a medical and financial center. And the opening of a gold mine near Helena led to an upturn in agriculture and mining.

Yellowstone County

Based on past trends, the current recession will be relatively mild in billings, but it will not go unnoticed. Looking back to 1980-82, we see that the cyclic declines in nonfarm labor income were small, but they were definitely present.

A much more significant downturn for the Billings area began in 1984 and continued through 1988. Refer to data for basic industries and you can see why: Decreases in food products (meat packing) and oil and gas (mining). The nonfarm labor income data fro 1989 and 1990 show increases, but these figures are still preliminary and could be revised.

Billings remains the state's largest trade center. Trade center industries account for about 40 percent of its economic base.

Gallatin County

Like Helena, the Bozeman area economy does not have a history of cyclic ups and downs. After experiencing minor volatility in 1979 and 1980, both nonfarm labor income and personal income grew steadily during the recession years of 1981 and 1982, and they continued upward until 1985. Both personal income and nonfarm labor income have been stable since 1985.

The reason's easy to see: None of Gallatin County's largest basic industries are cyclic. Montana State University accounted for about 34.4. percent of the economic base in 1988. Corresponding figures for other basic industries were nonresident travel 14.1 percent; federal government 12.1 percent; manufacturing 11.6 percent; and agriculture 11.4 percent.

Bozeman's growth spurt from 1981 to 1985 and the stability that followed also can be traced to basic industries. Both Montana State University and manufacturing (which includes several high tech firms and top end sporting good businesses) were increasing during the first half of the 1980s, and have been stable or declining slowly since 1985.

Butte-Silver Bow, Anaconda-Deer Lodge Counties

Traditionally, national recessions have meant hardship for the Butte-Anaconda area, primarily because the local economy was dominated by one cyclically-sensitive employer, the Anaconda Company.

The Anaconda Company's demise was primarily responsible for the area's economic declines between 1979 and 1986, when nonfarm labor income dropped by one-third and personal income decreased 15 percent. The Butte-Anaconda economy reached bottom in 1987 and 1988. We do not know how sensitive current mining operaitons (which began in 1988) are to national business cycles.

Butte-Anaconda has a more diverse economy now than in the past. Currently, the Montana Power Company and its subsidiaries are the largest component of the area's economic base, followed by the Montana College of Mineral Science and Technology, and Warm Springs State Hospital. Increases in activity for 1989 and 1990 should be interpreted with caution. The data is still very preliminary and may be revised -- but the trend appears upward.

Missoula County

Missoula's economy may be in for a rough ride in the current recession because its largest basic industry, wood products, is a direct conduit of national business cycle trends. Notice the 1980-82 recessions -- clearly visible in the data of Missoula County. The wood products industry leads Missoula's economy into cyclic downturns, but also provides positive sitmuli when the U.S. economy begins to recover.

Basic labor income for trade center activities has increased significantly since 1986, making this sector the second largest component of Missoula's economic base. Most of the recent increases appear to be in health care -- that is, nonresidents coming to Missoula for treatment. As mentioned elsewhere though, health care activity may not continue to grow as rapidly as in the past.

Flathead County

If history is a reliable guide, the current recession may also hit hard in Flatghead County. Wood products and primary metals refining are the area's two largest basic industries, and both have cyclic histories, with significant declines and recoveries during the recessionary period of the early 1980s.

Spikes in nonfarm labor income and personal income during 1987, 1988, and 1989 were due mostly to lump sum wage bonuses paid workers at the Columbia Falls Aluminum Company. Data for basic industries are annual averages, so wage bonus spikes don't show in those figures.

Cascade County

The current recession probably will not have a significant impact on Cascade County, although if we look too quickly at the historic data, we might think so. Early in the 1980s, right during the last recession, Cascade County did experience sizable declines in nonfarm labor income and basic labor income. However, these declines were caused by the closure of Anconda's refinery and the departure of several units from Malmstrom Air Force Base.

Since 1982, the Great Falls area also has experienced slow but persistent decline in labor income associated with trade center activities. This downward trend reflects long-term structural changes in trade relationships in and among the communities in north central Montana. (More about this in the Quarterly's Summer 1991 issue.)


Projections for Montana, the multicounty regions, and each of the major urban areas were prepared as part of the Economics Montana program, which is consponsored by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research and U S West.

Forecasts presented here focus on the long-term, post-recession outlook for the period 1991-1993. Earlier material dealt with impacts of the current recession and forecasts for recovery.

National Outlook

The U.S. forecasts are presented in table 4. The WEFA Group believes that U.S. economic growth will be relatively slow in the early 1990s. WEFA projects a real GNP growth rate of about 2.7 percent for both 1992 and 1993. This rate is well above recession lows but sill short of the late 1980s' 3 to percent growth rates. Inflation will be about 3.4. percent in 1992 and 4.1 percent in 1993. Housing starts will average 1.3 to 1.4 million per year, also down significantly from the late 1980s. Interest rates will go up slightly from those of the 1986 to 1989 period.

Statewide Projections

Montana's nonfarm labor income is projected to increase about 2.0 percent per year, well below the national figure of 2.8 percent per year. Personal income is expected to grow in Montana but also at a lower rate than nationwide. The state's figure is 2.0 percent per year, compared to 2.8 percent per year for the nation.

Long-term statewide projections suggest a return to the situation that existed in the late 1980s when Montana did experience economic growth. One again, though, the state's growth rate will be less than the national average.

Finally, turning to the major urban areas, the projected rates of growth for nonfarm labor income and personal income are presented in figure 24 and 25. Because substate forecasting is so new, we are even more cautions about these forecasts than the statewide projections.

We can divide the seven Montana cities into three groups. The fastest growing will be Flathead, Missoula and Gallatin counties. Then come Yellostone and Lewis and Clark counties. Cascade County and Butte-Anaconda will be the slowest growing areas.

In marking forecasts for the individual cities we took into account not only the likely trends in the basic industries, but also the role of the cities as trade centers. The growth of the health care industry is particularly important in several cities and we don't know how long this industry can continue to grow.

Paul E. Polzin is director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research and professor of management, School of Business Administration, The University of Montana.
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Author:Polzin, Paul E.
Publication:Montana Business Quarterly
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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